ASPARTAME: A dangerous excitotoxin that harms your brain

no-aspartameAspartame, also known by the brand names NutraSweet and Equal, is a common and popular artificial sweetener. It’s also a powerful excitotoxin. Excitotoxins are a class of chemical substances that have the harmful potential to excite, exhaust, damage and ultimately kill brain cells. The McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine says excitotoxins result in “diverse neurologic diseases.” (Three other common artificial sweeteners – sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet N Low) and stevia blends – are not excitotoxins.)

Over 100 countries, including the U.S., claim aspartame is safe for human consumption. The FDA says, “Few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated close scrutiny.” Aspartame was first approved by the FDA in 1974. Approval was repealed for a short time in 1980. Then it was again approved by the FDA in 1981. Aspartame has been in our food supply ever since. A timeline of the FDA aspartame-approval process is available here. The cozy political connection between Ronald Reagan (then a newly elected president) and Donald Rumsfeld (then the CEO of Searle, the owner of aspartame) allegedly resulted in the speedy FDA approval the second time around.

After FDA approval, aspartame quickly became the most popular artificial sweetener in the world. That is because cyclamate, another artificial sweetener, was banned in the U.S. in 1969 and a different product was wanted and needed by the dieting and diabetic public. At the same time, Saccharin was suspected of causing bladder cancer. Consequently, all saccharin products had to display a cancer warning from the 1970s until 2000 when Bill Clinton removed it during his last week in office, perhaps the first ever presidential pardon for a food product.

Aspartame dominated the artificial sweetener market for 30 years until the introduction of sucralose in 1998. Since then, sucralose has taken over as the most popular, and stevia blends aren’t far behind. That said, over 6,000 drinks, food products, pharmaceuticals and vitamin supplements are still made with aspartame. It’s especially prevalent in diet sodas, low-fat foods, yogurts, cereals, shakes, gums, and some sugar-free foods.

The recipe for aspartame is to combine two amino acids, L-phenylalanine and L-aspartic acid, with a third component called a methyl ester group. All three ingredients have the potential to create serious, chronic neurological problems and are the subject of relentless anecdotal reporting by individuals and warnings by independent health experts. Problems range from headaches to seizures, strokes, tumors and progressive neurological diseases. None of this is officially recognized.

Let’s take a look at each ingredient in aspartame:

● The amino acid phenylalanine is serious health threat for people with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU). It’s known to cause mental retardation, brain damage, seizures and other problems and must be avoided. The FDA requires a warning on any food that contains aspartame: “Phenylketonurics: Contains phenylalanine.”

Note that large doses of aspartame can also cause a rapid increase in the brain levels of phenylalanine in people who do not have PKU. This is particularly problematic if aspartame is taken in conjunction with a sleep disorder, an anxiety disorder, or with medications that contain levodopa or that contain oxidase inhibitors or neuroleptics.

● The amino acid called L-aspartic acid or aspartate is an excitotoxin. Researchers noticed that a certain class of chemicals over-excite brain cells and cause them to dysfunction or die. They called these chemicals excitotoxins because they harm and kill with over-stimulation. At least 70 excitotoxins have been identified, but the two most prevalent are aspartame and MSG. Other common ingredient terms that hide the presence of excitotoxins include natural flavors, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, plant protein and others.

Excitotoxins are said to be safe because of the blood-brain barrier, which regulates and prevents harmful substances from entering the brain. The basic idea is that small amounts of aspartame (and other excitotoxins) do not impair brain functionality or cause disease because the blood-brain barrier keeps them out. New research, however, leads to a different conclusion. Some experts now believe the barrier can be compromised, especially when excitotoxins accumulate over time and reach a certain threshold. The greater the intake of excitotoxins, the faster the threshold is reached.

Several new theories attempt to explain the reason for the breach of the blood-brain barrier. One has to do with the role of calcium, which opens the brain barrier channel and allows high concentrations of excitotoxins to reach brain cells. Another has to do with the fact that excitotoxins stimulate the release of free radicals, and free radicals most likely play a major role in all neurodegenerative diseases and problems. Aging also makes the brain barrier less resilient and more vulnerable to excitotoxins. Then there’s the impact of reduced calorie intake, common to people on a diet who drink and eat products made with excitotoxins. When brain energy is low, the effect of excitotoxins is aggravated and exaggerated. For a more scientific and more comprehensive explanation of these theories and others, read Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills by neurosurgeon Russell Blalock, MD.

● Methyl alcohol is a wood alcohol. When methyl alcohol is bonded to phenylalanine it forms a methyl ester bond. The bonding of these two chemicals is what makes aspartame 200 times sweeter than sugar. Because the phenylalanine-methyl alcohol bond is very weak, the two substances can easily separate. Heat, for example, breaks the chemical bond, and it’s the reason you can’t cook with aspartame or why you shouldn’t expose diet sodas to heat (as when left in a car on a hot day). When heat is applied to aspartame, you end up with all of the poison and none of the sweetness.

Once the bond between methyl alcohol and phenylalanine is broken, the methyl alcohol is free to pass through the brain barrier and rapidly converts to formaldehyde. Formaldehyde has the potential to damage DNA and contribute to more serious and chronic neurological diseases, particularly multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Woody Monte, a world expert on methyl alcohol toxicity, says, “Multiple sclerosis behaves sort of like an autoimmune disease…The formaldehyde is what causes it.” Formaldehyde destroys the myelin basic protein, one of the triggers for MS.

For more information about the dangers of methyl alcohol, read Dr. Monte’s book While Science Sleeps: A Sweetener Kills. If you’re interested in a personal story about recovery from multiple sclerosis that’s attributed to the elimination of aspartame and other excitotoxins from the diet, check out Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World, a documentary by Cory Brackett.

So here’s what we know about brain dysfunction and disease:

● 28 million people in the U.S. suffer from migraine headaches.

● 1 out of every 19 people dies from a stroke.

● 221 people out of every 100,000 have a brain tumor. Brain tumors are the second leading cause of deaths in people under 20. From 1973 to 1990, brain tumors in people over the age of 65 increased by 67%.

● One out of every 88 kids has autism.

● One out of every six kids has some kind of developmental disability.

● One out of every three seniors has Alzheimer’s disease or some kind of dementia.

● 1.2 million people have Parkinson’s disease, the 14th leading cause of death in the U.S.

● 400,000 people have multiple sclerosis.

● Two out of every 100,000 people have ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Why so many brain disorders for so many people?

Is to too simplistic to think there might be something subtle in our environment triggering disease and making us sick in the head? What if that something is in our food supply? Every single ingredient in the aspartame recipe has the potential to result in brain damage. It’s a poison with triple potency, and it’s everywhere! The problem is that disease and dysfunction often take several years to manifest. And when a neurological problem shows up, it’s hard to prove the cause.

Because the brain is not fully developed in fetuses and young children, excitotoxins of all kinds are exceptionally dangerous to them. Seniors and people with a family history of neurological disorders also have a greater risk than others. And for the rest of us, the brain is under constant, exhausting pressure from excitotoxins. How much stimulation can it take before you wear it out?

Russell Blaylock says, “The FDA has failed in its stated purpose of protecting the public from harmful substances being added to our food supply. Millions of lives are at stake—including those of future generations. People must be warned.”

Don’t wait for the government to catch up. Your safest bet is to be self-informed and to avoid aspartame. Always read the ingredients list. There are plenty of other non-caloric sweeteners to choose that are not excitotoxins.
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